Is Islam An Easier Religion? – OpEd


Most Jews would be shocked to learn that Muslims believe Islam is an easier religion than Judaism. 

There are several reasons for this shock. First, few Jews know that the Qur’an states; “Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you.” (2: 185) and even fewer non-Muslims know of this famous hadîth narrated by Muhammad’s favorite wife Aisha: “Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was  sinful to do so, he would never approach it.” 

Aisha also said: “Whenever Allah’s Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them to do deeds which were easy for them to do.”

Second, Islam as seen by the western world in the last several centuries, is much more restrictive than it was in the early centuries of Islam. Religions in the western world, (with the exception of small groups like Amish and Mennonite Protestants, as well as Hassidic Jews) have greatly changed their medieval forms and customs, while many parts of the Islamic world have not.

Also the most extreme, narrow minded and intolerant views within the Muslim community or tradition often get the most coverage in the western media. Thus, the frequent denial by some Palestinian political leaders of the existence of Prophet Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem is newsworthy; while evidence of Muslim Jewish co-operation in Jerusalem is ignored.

For example, there is historic evidence that Muslims and Jews once prayed together on the Temple Mount according to Khaled Diab, a Jerusalem-based Egyptian-Belgian journalist. Following the surrender of Jerusalem to the Arab armies in the 7th century, Omar Ibn al-Khattab allowed Jews, who had been expelled by the Christian Byzantines, to return back to Jerusalem.

“There is strong evidence to suggest that the Jews were not only permitted to return to Jerusalem, but that the Muslims allowed them to worship at their side on the Temple Mount,” wrote Francis E. Peters, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. 

And “We know that Omar welcomed the Jews back in Jerusalem, that he and the early caliphs allowed Jewish worship on the Temple Mount,” according to Jewish historian Simon Sebag Montefiore.

It is even possible that the caliph allowed the Jews to construct a synagogue on the mount and appointed a Jew as the first governor of Jerusalem, according to the 7th century Armenian historian Sebeos. For a century, Jews had full access to this site, holy to both Jews and Muslims; until the reign of the dogmatic Umar Ibn Abdel-Aziz. History teaches us that unlike the news today, Jews and Muslims were for many centuries, friends and allies; and that they once stood side by side as brothers in faith on Jerusalem’s most hallowed ground. 

Third, although Ultra-Orthodox Jews still follow the medieval customs of their ancestors, most Jews in the world today are no longer Orthodox Jews. Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of non-Orthodox Jews in North America today, seems easier than Islam to most Jews. This is only partly true.  

I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who is an Islamic Jew. Actually I am an Islamic Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. 

As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Prophet Abraham – the first Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) to become an Islamic Hebrew, and I submit to the covenant and its commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. 

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai. 

These are lessons that Prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in early 19th century Germany. Although most Jews today are no longer Orthodox, if the Jews of Muhammad’s time had followed these teachings of prophet Muhammad, Reform Judaism would have started 1,400 years ago.

I believe that Muhammad was a prophet of Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Jews of his day; although he was 1,200 years ahead of his time. During the six centuries between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Muhammad in Yathrib, the city of Jews (Medina), almost all Jews had become Orthodox Jews. 

Orthodox Rabbis added many extra prohibitions to Jewish law and most Jews became increasingly strict in the observance of the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut (dietary restrictions). 

Although the Torah of Moses prohibits adding to the commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) over the centuries Orthodox Rabbis added many restrictions to the laws of prohibited activities under the theory of building a protective fence around the Torah’s laws. 

Also, whenever Orthodox Rabbis were in doubt if an animal had been slaughtered correctly according to Jewish law, or if one could eat a newly discovered species of bird, it was ruled prohibited. 

They were not guided by Muhammad’s principle as narrated by Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas: The Prophet said, “The most sinful person among the Muslims is the one who asked about something which had not been prohibited, but was prohibited because of his asking.” 

For example, the Torah also teaches:”When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, do not come near her for seven days; she is taboo for her menstrual period ” (Leviticus 15:19). 

Orthodox Rabbis extended the period from seven to about twelve days and demanded no physical contact at all during that period. Muhammad supported the Torah’s ban on sex during a woman’s period, but opposed the additional restrictions enacted by Orthodox Rabbis. 

As Thabit narrated it from Anas: “Among the Jews, when a woman menstruated, they did not dine with her (sitting on the same bench), nor did they live together in their houses (they slept in separate beds). The Companions asked The Apostle, and Allah, the Exalted revealed: ‘They ask you about menstruation; say it is a pollution, so keep away from women during menstruation and do not approach until they are clean again.’ (Qur’an 2: 222). 

The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do everything except intercourse’. (Orthodox) Jews heard that and said: This man does not want to leave anything we do without opposing us in it.” 

Indeed, a modern Jewish scholar, Shai Secunda, has recently shown that Middle Persian Zend Zoroastrian texts were very strict about ritual purity in general and female menstruation in particular; and the Babylonian rabbis may have made Jewish menstrual law more stringent under their influence. 

Therefore the Qur’an teaches that only intercourse during menstruation itself is forbidden. Rabbis and  Zoroastrian priests have unnecessarily extended the prohibition. 

Reform Rabbis today would advise a Jewish couple seeking guidance in this matter of family purity law to behave in a way much closer to that of Muhammad than to that of any Orthodox Rabbi. Thus, in many ways one could say that Islam is an easy religion compared to Orthodox Judaism then and now; just as Reform Judaism is. As a Hadith says: “The best parts of your religion are the easiest ones.” “The best of your religion is that which is easiest.” (Ahmad)

Finally, in terms of beliefs; the Islamic Unitarian view of God, like the Jewish Unitarian view, is much easier to believe and understand than Christian Trinitarian teachings.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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